Harry Oppenheimer is a research associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken on an international flavor as foreign fighters continue to pour into Syria and Iraq from eighty nations as disparate as Kyrgyzstan and Spain. The number of foreign fighters is currently estimated to be as high as 16,000. While the most foreign fighters originate from Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, up to 2,000 are from the United Kingdom (UK), 930 from France, 300 from Sweden, 300 from Belgium, and 450 from Germany. The growing scope of the foreign fighter problem has made it a priority in policy discussions on ISIS, either as Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution wrote, “Homeward Bound? Don’t Hype the Threat of Returning Jihadists,” or as Pascale Siegel, founder of Insight Through Analysis, warned, “Foreign Fighters in Syria: Why We Should Be Worried.” These discussions ignore the real question—what happens when these people want to return to their home countries? Read more »